SPOKANE, Wash. - Johanna Beverage Company of Spokane has been fined $154,000 for lack of emergency planning for ammonia leaks that put its workers in harm's way three times in the past year.
The Department of Labor & Industries is fining the business for multiple willful, serious, and general workplace safety violations.
In each of the incidents when the leaks occurred, employees were unsure of what to do, which way to run to escape the corrosive vapors, and how to call for emergency help.
In one particular incident last August, panicked employees ran downwind of the leak and into the vapor cloud. Eight employees was exposed to the harmful vapors, and one was sickened and taken to the hospital.
The company was cited for two willful violations, each with the maximum legal penalty of $70,000. It was also cited for two serious violations, with a maximum penalty of $7,000.
The first willful violation was after the first disorganized response to a leak in December 2015, the local fire department advised the company to call 911 sooner and prepare a detailed employee emergency evacuation plan.
However, months later there were two more leaks, with the same poor response.
The company was cited for not developing a comprehensive written emergency response plan on what to do in the event of an ammonia leak. This type of a plan would include information on communication, pre-emergency planning, and drills.
The second willful violation was cited for not providing employees with an emergency response training in the event of an ammonia leak.
The first serious violation was for not providing an ammonia alarm system to alert employees when they needed to evacuate. The second was for not ensuring that voluntary use of respirators was done safely.
The serious violations were cited because there was a high probability that worker death or serious harm could result from a hazardous condition. The willful violations were cited because of the company's indifference and disregard to a hazard.
The employer has 15 business days to appeal the citation.
Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers' compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.
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